Trial over pole barn construction opens at local courthouseA Mitchell man unhappy with a barn that was built for him is seeking up to $30,000 in damages from a Mount Vernon contractor.
By: Chris Mueller, The Daily Republic
A Mitchell man unhappy with a barn that was built for him is seeking up to $30,000 in damages from a Mount Vernon contractor.
A trial set for three days opened Wednesday at the Davison County Courthouse.
The lawsuit was filed by Doug Altman, of Mitchell, against Ryan Baker, of Mount Vernon, doing business as Baker Construction. Altman claims Baker failed to live up to a contract they had on the construction of a steel pole barn on Altman’s property.
Work on the barn started in December 2007 and was completed in January 2008.
Seeking monetary damages, Altman is claiming the construction of the barn was done improperly, making it impossible for him to use the building for its intended purpose, which he said was as an enclosed, insulated structure for vehicle and equipment storage with an office and work space.
Altman and his attorney, Michael Luce, of Sioux Falls, both said the total cost of building, which is approximately 50 feet by 72 feet, was just under $80,000.
Altman is the owner of Doug’s Auto Sales, a used car dealership in Mitchell. He said in court he was planning to use the building, in part, for vehicle storage and planned to possibly move his entire dealership to his property and work out of the pole barn, located approximately three miles west of Mitchell.
He said he met with the Davison County Zoning Board and had part of his property classified as part of his car dealership.
Altman said he purchased all the materials for the building and received the design from an outside sale representative with Menards, who acquired the building blueprints through an architect with Midwest Manufacturing. He also hired another construction company to prepare the site of the building for construction before Baker was involved with the construction.
Baker testified Wednesday that he found Altman’s preparation of the site to be “absolutely perfect.”
Altman said in his testimony that Baker’s role in the construction would be to build the pole barn with the materials provided and to the specifications set in the blueprints.
In his testimony, Altman said after construction of the pole barn was completed by Baker, he noticed loose steel and sagging poles on the barn. He said the loose steel caused the entire structure to rattle loudly in the wind. He testified Baker fixed the rattling issue after Altman complained shortly after construction was completed in January 2008, but he alleges other problems with the building remained.
In his opening statement, Luce said gaps and leaks in the building allowed rain and snow to get inside. Altman testified there were some gaps large enough for him to fit his finger through, and snow blew into the building through gaps in the walls and the roof.
Altman said he once parked his camper inside the building, and at one point about 2 feet of snow accumulated on its roof.
Several photos of the alleged gaps in the walls and roof were submitted into evidence on Wednesday.
Altman said damages should be about $1,000 for each month he has been unable to use the building for its intended purpose, and said that total would be between $28,000 and $30,000. He admitted in later testimony he could not specify an exact dollar amount for damages.
“You can’t insulate a building that’s leaking,” Luce said, adding Altman had sent numerous letters and made multiple phone calls asking Baker to repair the pole barn in the last three years, and left Altman with no choice but to take legal action.
Checks were done during construction to ensure the building was being constructed according to the plans, Baker said, and none of the problems Altman alleges in his lawsuit were present at the time of those checks.
Baker testified he did not do a single thing wrong in the construction of Altman’s building and he should not have to pay damages. Baker gave Altman a one-year warranty on the building. He also testified Altman told him he was going to use half the building to store livestock. In the defense’s opening statement, attorney Stephen Landon, of Sioux Falls, argued the building Baker agreed to build in his contract with Altman was never intended to be completely sealed from the weather.
“You can’t hold your contractor to a standard of impossibility,” Landon said.
Landon said the total cost of Baker’s involvement in the construction of the pole barn was about $37,000.
“The evidence is going to show that this was a very well-built building,” Landon said, adding he would be shocked if the only solution to fixing Altman’s problem would be to tear the entire structure down and start again.
Landon pursued a line of questioning and entered evidence during his cross-examination of Altman, which showed he had not informed anyone of his intention to eventually use the building, in part, as an office for his car dealership prior to construction, other than the Davison County Zoning Board. He did mention using the building as an office in his deposition testimony prior to trial.
Altman admitted during cross-examination he had not told Baker or anybody at Menards prior to construction that he wanted the building to be sealed from elements of the weather, such as rain or snow. He also admitted to receiving a letter from Baker recommending an insulating spray foam to seal the gaps in the building, but Altman disagreed that would fix the problems.
The trial is being heard by Judge Cheryl Gering, of Yankton.